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Long have I toyed with the idea of trying to formulate what I see as the best approach to counter the populist movement spreading through Europe. What made me pull the trigger to finally put word to paper was a recent statement by Juncker that was highlighted in a Euractiv article. He calls for the EU supporter to stand up against the 'stupid populists'. While I agree that some form of cooperation is needed to tackle this problem, I am rather certain his method is not only counter-intuitive, but also his attitude is actually one of the roots of the problem.

...continue reading "The quest to find the sword and shield against populism"

An interesting article was recently posted by that "support for democracy is weak among Sweden's youngsters" which made me wondering if any other form of government would be an improvement. The main consensus seems to be that an aristocracy would be able to deal with this age's issues better than our current political oriented government. Politicians are too focused on their public image, remaining in position, and keeping their donators satisfied. The education of politicians is also something that in a democracy is never put into question. I mentioned in an earlier blog that we do not hold our state's rulers to the same standards as we do of our surgeons. A nice quote from Douglas Adams to summarise this states: "it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. "

...continue reading "Alternative to democracy?"

“Is a strange woman lying in ponds distributing swords is a good basis for a system of government?”

A quote from the movie Monty Python; the search for the Holy Grail. Even though a joke of high comedy gold, I still found it a good topic to go back to. What constitutes a good basis for a system of Government? The counter argument in that particular sketch states it should be based on the mandate of the masses, or commonly known as democracy. But are all the other versions forms of repression as the land worker suggests?
Socrates, a philosopher in the first democratic polis, was surprisingly against democracy. He argues that if you want a prosperous state, wouldn’t you rather want rulers that have been educated in political affairs rather a demagogue who just promises better things than their rivals? I think this is a good argument, if I would need surgery I would prefer someone who has been through med school and years of residency rather than someone who will promise to fix me up but never held a scalpel. Why is it then that in this age we do not hold the same standards to our political representatives than we of any other service provider?
So, imagine then we are at a fork on the road, do we go on and just except anyone to be a political leader, or do we go down the path of qualified representation? the ancient Chinese dynasties, interestingly enough, already had a form of qualification tool to ensure that those in office were educated. This system originated during the Han dynasty 207 BC and is called the imperial examination. All prospective bureaucratic candidates took this exam up until its dissolvent in 1907.
Imagine if current demagogue or any leaders had taken the exam, would they have passed it? Would the preparation change their political leaning? Or would this examination be another barrier for the working class to gain access to government?
One of the major drawbacks during its usage was a lack of innovation. A test can hardly contain questions about future scenarios and policies, therefore it will automatically have a conservative leaning. Another issue is that a test like this without doubt will not do justice to some other important fields such as arts and science. Taking the test was also very expensive due to the education it required.
A qualified representative democracy. But qualified by who? Let’s say this test is indeed to be reintroduced, who will create this test? That alone will without doubt cause turmoil. If the current government is in charge, there will be undoubtedly will be nepotism. If the academics are in responsible a more social color the test will have. What if we create a ministry of examination? Now corruption is luckily not a really big issue in western Europe, but if a single group is responsible for creating the test, thus also influencing who passes, there will be disagreement in the best case.

Further reading:
Ko, K. (2017). A brief history of imperial examination and its influences. Society, 54(3), 272-278. doi:10.1007/s12115-017-0134-9

Democracy has been heavily challenged over the course of history and has found its place in the bedrock of our western ideals. In the various media outlets I have encountered articles stating that so and so leader is damaging the democracy of the nation, or that acts implemented are of authoritarian nature. To be undemocratic is framed one of the biggest crimes of humankind. But as many political philosophers have already pointed out is democracy as a political structure only the least worse of all available options. However, this raises several questions to me. Is there nothing else past democracy that can structure and rule our liberal society? And is democracy not simply past its best time? Is a new political structure, just like creating a new colour, simply unthinkable?

In the graph below you can see what would happen if all the US voters who abstained from voting were counted towards the electoral race anyway. A landslide victory of 445 electoral seats. This quite surprises me, as it is hard to fathom why it is that society, is just not that interested anymore in participating in the governance of their country. Or maybe it is merely that indeed democracy has lost its peak.

[graph] by Philip Kearney

The most famous writer on post-democracy is Collin Crouch who divides the democratic life span in stages These stages are formed in a parabola, where there is build-up, a peak of democracy and decline. The Post-democratic stage is in the decline era, which we now find ourselves in.

"A post-democratic society is one that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell. The energy and innovative drive pass away from the democratic arena and into small circles of a politico-economic elite."

Besides for individual countries this can also be said for the EU in its entirety. Habermas for instance states that the because of the rising power of the European council and the undemocratic institutions such as the ECB and the IMF.

To see post-democracy as a stage of democracy itself is one way of defining it, another direction is to view it as something that comes after democracy. For the sake of length, we keep it within the Western concept. Another interesting figure who writes from this direction is Václav Havel, most known for his book The power of the Powerless. He states that the parliamentary democratic ideal is not the only option available to us. A post democratic society:

“Above all, any existential revolution should provide hope of a moral reconstitution of society, which means a radical renewal of the relationship of human beings to what I have called the ‘human order’, which no political order can replace.” A new experience of being, a renewed rootedness in the universe, a newly grasped sense of ‘higher responsibility’, a new-found inner relationship to other people and to the human community – these factors clearly indicate the direction in which we must go. -p.283

This is an interesting yet utopian approach. Can society really transcend political structures? It is hard to envision a harmony so pure all 7 sins have been eradicated from our behaviour. In such a situation it only takes one little lie to upset the balance. If we could bio engineer humans to remove any bad traits, perhaps then we can start seeing beyond governance.

My best bet still would be that this is only possible through technology. When we have reached a form of singularity, political entities will become obsolete. If all beings are one, why do you need an external force to govern itself?

Many political philosophers talk about the cycle of political structures, how from a monarchy or authoritarian model a democratic one can be moulded, and in turn also how democracies deteriorate.

Machiavelli as one of, if not the most famous political philosopher stated several tell-tale signs on when democracy declines. The first is a democracy that is based on heavy partisanship, not one that it is organised in political parties, rather that there is a strong divide into two groups who see each other as rivals and have complete opposite ideologies. It takes no further explanation that this is the case if you look at the social democratic vs the populist parties or Brexit remain or leave vote.
The second marker is an increase in inequality between the rich and the poor. The crisis of 2012 hit everyone equally, but the OECD reported that the household growth of disposable income has not yet recovered from the crisis, most notably for those in the lower incomes. Especially in the PIIGS countries the recovery rate when compared bottom 10% to top 10% differs a lot.

The final, and most important key event for a Machiavelli’s reasons for democracy’s decline is the eradication of the rule of law. The EU’s response to crises have always been problematic due to the cracks in the foundation caused by the reliance on the Monnet method. Normally new integration should create future and so on but the response to the EU crisis did not cause new economic centralisation. Due to the enormous pressure to full the functional gap between a single supranational currency and economic policies that was still intergovernmental the EU decided to go outside the constitutional framework to create an emergency credit facilitator. And put other important decision on the ECB’s shoulder which are immune to democratic accountability.

“European authoritarianism - such as the above-mentioned example - creates incentives for popular anti-system opposition and provides political opportunities for populist leaders, which meaningfully enhance the prospects of an anti-liberal, anti-European backlash.” – Christian Kreuder-Sonnen
If a legal polity does not conform to its own rule of law, it will only result in more future authoritarian behaviour. This can only result into a growing support towards protectionist parties. The populism cannot be entirely explained by this phenomenon, many more country specific factors can be pointed to as causation. Nevertheless Kreuder-Sonnen stresses that it does create extreme incentives for populist anti-system support.
With the immigration crisis no new authoritarian measures where created but the inaction strategy has failed equally, since the EU should have been the ones that could have at least attempted a proper solution rather than rely on the entrance country policies.
Next crises will be, without doubt, the deal breaker for the European community and the trajectory towards nation state importance cannot be reversed. It is a shame that there is no real integration strategy besides options mentioned in the whitepaper by the commission. How can any political entity create support if the future political structure is uncertain? Even a disintegration approach could be something worth mentioning if it all member states can find an unanimity agreement.
Maybe all democracies do have an expiration date as a lot of political philosophers prophesised, and the western liberal version has been long over-due. The return of the nation state does paint a sombre picture, for it will remove the EU as a top economic player. Especially as someone from the Netherlands we could have always relied on our membership to the EU to get a seat at the table, but that will surely all but be guaranteed if more member states will follow Italy’s footsteps.
I must say though not all is as dark as the previous paragraphs fear, if no new major crises develop, perhaps political stability can be ensured and the appeal for protectionist parties will lessen. These are just concerns that are apparent to me in the current discourse, but at least until the new EU election in 2019 I do not think we will found ourselves back on the path towards rapid integration or federalism.

Kreuder-Sonnen, C. (2018). An authoritarian turn in Europe and European Studies? Journal of European Public Policy, 25(3), 452-464